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October 6, 2011 / Steve Hennigs

Website Governance and the new Law Firm Website


Many have read the recent article from Robert Algeri of Great Jakes Marketing Company entitled “The future of the law firm website” and with good reason.  The piece was a great evaluation in terms of where law firm websites are headed and why.  If you have not read the article yet, please do and then come back to this post.

A few things that stood out to me is that he believes websites will be getting larger, more decentralized, and use different types of content (video, blogging, images, etc.) going forward in order to cater to the changing needs of legal clients.  If this is indeed true I am wondering who will be responsible for governing these massive and ever-changing websites and how are they going to do it?

Before we get too far I want to make sure we are all on the same page in terms of what Website Governance really is.  For that I will turn to my good friend Wikipedia.  According to Wikipedia website governance is:

An organization’s structure of staff (each with well-defined roles, responsibilities, and authorities); technical systems; and the policies, procedures, and relationships such staff have in place to maintain and manage a website.  Website governance applies to both Internet and Intranet sites.

The idea of website governance is an emerging one but it will become a necessity for any organization (not just law firms) that have large, decentralized, and complex websites.  So, how do you get started and ahead of the curve?

People first

If we break down the Wikipedia definition we can see that the first thing mentioned is the “organization’s structure of staff (each with well-defined roles, responsibilities, and authorities)”.  So your first step is to define governance roles and assign those roles to members of your existing staff.  I will again go to Wikipedia for a visual breakdown of the roles and responsibilities in Website Governance.

Website Governance Roles

Website Governance Roles

Now there are a lot of roles outlined in the above image.  If you can have someone dedicated to the areas noted by the bold boxes in the image you are off to a great start.  My guess is that most law firms do not have the resources to hire someone for each position so you must have people who can wear multiple hats.  For example the Content person can also be the Marketing and Editorial Person and the Quality Assurance Person.

You can also outsource some of these tasks.  A great example here is having a company provide you with Technical Software, Technical Hardware, User Experience, and Production roles through the delivery of a Content Management System (CMS) and maintenance package for that CMS.

All firms are different so ultimately you must decide how it makes sense if your firm to fill these roles but they must be filled to effectively govern your website as it gets larger and more decentralized.

Policies Second

Although “policies, procedures, and relationships” are mentioned third in the Wikipedia definition I would suggest you make this step two in your process.  It makes little sense to select tools to assist in website governance if you do not have defined policies first.

The State of Massachusetts has a great outline of Website Governance Guidelines that can help you develop a policy for your firm.  Another example can be seen on the Environmental Protection Agency website.  I was hoping to find an example from a law firm but was not able to do so.

Perhaps you and your firm would be willing to be a frontrunner in that arena and construct a model that other firms could use as an outline?  In any case, getting policies established that your people agree to and can carry out is a critical piece to any website governance strategy.

Tools Third

After you have the people and policies in place the final step is to get them the appropriate tools (“technical systems” in the Wikipedia definition)  that can assist them in governing the content according to those policies.  I mentioned Content Management Systems (CMS) earlier in the post and that is a great place to start.  There are a wide variety of options available for CMS ranging from open source to proprietary.  Here are a few I have come across in speaking with law firms.

Open Source (free)
If you have the development and design resources in your firm open source may be the way to go for you.

Proprietary
These will cost you a fee but if you do not have in-house resources one of these options may make more sense for your firm.

Beyond a CMS there are other tools that can assist with governing your website.  In a previous post I wrote on how Your New Website is like a New Car meaning that you must perform routine maintenance over time to keep it in tact.  Tools for automated content quality assurance, web analytics, and uptime/response time monitoring will assist your people in making sure time is used efficiently when performing this maintenance.

Website governance can be a time-consuming task but the right tools can  allow your firm to efficiently manage the website the way it needs to be managed.

As I stated at the outset of this post I believe that as law firm websites continue to grow and evolve that a website governance strategy will become essential.  I would love to hear from you about this.  What do you think?  What did I leave out?  Am I wrong?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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3 Comments

  1. Philippa Gamse / Oct 9 2011 2:05 PM

    Hi Steve,

    Great article! In terms of the governance / staffing issues, I have long advocated for the establishment of a role that I term “Web Ambassador” – in fact, it’s the first rule in my new book “42 Rules for a Web Presence That Wins”.

    The Web Ambassador is an executive-level position which has oversight over all the web and social media activities within the organization. In my experience, this role is often not fulfilled, with the result that there is no holistic web / social media strategy, resources are wasted because different departments are working at cross-purposes, and / or not leveraging mutual opportunities, and there is no correlation between overall business strategic decisions and the ensuing needs / opportunities for the web to support them.

    The Web Ambassador does not need to have the in-depth skills – those can be delegated, but without someone who has both the ear of the CEO, and a 30.000ft “eagle-eye” view of the organization and its strategies, too many aspects of the web activities end up in self-perpetuating silos.

    Note: a free sampler of my book including this section is available at: http://www.websitesthatwin.com/book-preview.html

    • Steve Hennigs / Oct 10 2011 8:09 AM

      Hi Philippa,

      I think the idea of a “Web Ambassador” is really terrific. I believe you are right on point when you mention that if there is no single decision making body for the website that individual business units will do their own thing when it comes to their part of the website. This un-unified message can really make any organization look a bit foolish. By having people, policies, and tools in place to ensure that the same message is being delivered and errors are being avoided organizations can have a professional web presence they can be proud of.

      Thanks for your comment and I look forward to reading your book to learn the other 41 rules!

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